81: From Tragedy to Triumph

81: From Tragedy to Triumph

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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From Tragedy to Triumph

When I chased after money, I never had enough. When I got my life on purpose and focused on giving of myself and everything that arrived into my life, then I was prosperous.

~Wayne Dyer

Metal crushing, glass shattering and the acrid gun-shot smell of airbags deploying are all I remember of the single minute that took me from an upper middle–class life to poverty-level, surviving on less than fifteen percent of what I previously made. For the first six months after the accident, I spent every day curled up on my bed, unable to move, and shocked at how much of my identity had been tied to how much I made and how much I spent.

I finally faced the fact that although I had worked hard my entire life, everything I had was gone. I now had to learn how to live on almost nothing. Even if I did receive permanent disability, it would still be less than twenty percent of what my six-figure income had provided.

At first I was angry, resentful and fed-up. I no longer had the option to make any decisions about discretionary spending. There simply WAS no extra money available. Everything had to be prioritized so that only the necessary bills were paid. The rent was first, utilities second. After that it became a game of spreading the money between groceries, caring for the animals I had adopted, and medicine for me. It was a miserable existence, and then two things happened in the same week and broke me out of this rut.

The first was receiving a series of pictures showing how much people in various cultures got to spend on food in a week. When I saw a family in Africa making do with their single bag of rice and a few wilted vegetables I gained a new perspective on my own situation.

Then I had a conversation with a neighbor who was going through essentially the same process as me and I realized that I had already survived the worst of my debacle. I hadn’t lost my home; my utilities hadn’t been shut off, and although I hadn’t eaten the sumptuous restaurant meals I was used to consuming while working two jobs, I also hadn’t starved. I had, by sheer stubbornness, found ways to make the reduced income do double duty and survived.

The accident had taken away my purpose in life. But as often happens, what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger and wiser. I knew that finding a new purpose was mandatory, and that instead of feeling angry and resentful, I could begin to look at the need to live successfully on significantly less as a challenge. If I could win this game, I could help others do so too. That gave me a new focus.

I cut up all my credit cards and sent them back to the credit card companies. I paid them only what I could, when I could. I sold all the high-priced examples of over-spending I had accumulated over the years: fancy collectibles; expensive jewelry, too-expensive automobiles and anything else that had a value. By doing so, I was able to keep going and pay off much of the debt I had. A second benefit was that I began to have a lot less to clean, and began to truly find a lightness in my spirit that the weight of “stuff” had held down all those years.

Being freed from caring what anyone else had or did allowed me to become my own person. Instead of trying to keep up with anyone else, I got to concentrate on what really mattered to me. Amazingly, over a five-year period, I learned that living in the finest home, driving the newest car and/or having the latest gadgets were simply no longer important to me. Even when I got an increase in my disability check, I no longer desired to run out and replace any of the “things” I previously had found so important.

Little by little I cleaned out and downsized to the point where I now have a minimalist home that I can take care of pretty much by myself. Interestingly, if the dogs do something that creates a mess, it no longer stresses me out. There’s nothing so important that it’s worth having a meltdown about anymore. I also have so much more of that illusive item that most people running on the hamster wheel of ambition have almost none of — time.

I now focus on spending time with family and friends. We talk about the olden days, the days of lavish Christmas presents, of eating out every night, and of buying new clothes, toys and décor almost monthly. Amazingly, my kids don’t remember most of what I gave them or they played with. Instead, their memories are of the days I couldn’t attend their ceremonies or my coming home from work after they were already in bed asleep. Time with people can never be replaced by stuff.

Granted, there are still days I wish I had more income to accomplish a cherished goal or make a repair to my home. But I’ve found that if the goal is meant to be, eventually it will happen. God provides in interesting and unique ways, and helping neighbors with their problems has opened avenues for them to help me with mine. By not being able to buy myself whatever I want, I’ve learned how to develop deeper and richer relationships, networks and friendships.

And a lot of the resentment my children once felt at my quest for the best and brightest has gone by the wayside. We were recently all just talking over a simple salad and tea — realizing that we were closer now than many families who have much more materially, but spend no time connecting emotionally.

Would I have voluntarily gone through what happened? Possibly not, but since I was allowed to experience it, I have been able to help many others make wiser financial decisions and survive in the face of traumatic events. I am now at a place in life where I can truly say that I wouldn’t exchange the life I have for my old one. Living on less allows you to truly live — a rare gift that many miss out on.

~Kamia Taylor

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